Bring Back the Music
O. Henry Museum Piano Restoration Progress
Photos by Chris Hallock
On February 11th, before the Coronavirus outbreak turned our world upside down, several Brush Square Museums city staff and Brush Square Museums Foundation (BSMF) board members traveled to Molberg Piano Restoration studio near Blanco, Texas to view the restoration progress of the 155-year-old square grand piano that has been on display at the O. Henry Museum. The piano is undergoing an estimated $38,000 restoration, funded by City of Austin together with a $2,500 grant from the Foundation. In short, the goal is to "bring back the music" with a restored, playable musical instrument.
Owner, Bernard Molberg gave the group a complete tour of his facility that sits on 34 acres of a mesa overlooking the Blanco River. Since it was removed August 26, 2019 from the museum, his craftsmen have completed about one-third to one-half of the piano restoration. Still in pieces, he explained there are still many steps before the piano can be assembled again.
Before the piano was sent to the Molberg Piano Restoration, it was in “original” condition, in that nothing had been replaced in the mechanical and structural parts of the instrument. Most case parts were loose because of stripped screws. The extensive cleaning and reconstruction of the sounding board, bridge, keyboard ivories, hammers, refinishing the Brazilian rosewood veneer, and restringing will take an estimated nine months.
Donated to the museum in 1953 by Mrs. Milton Morris, the piano was built by the Horace Waters Company of New York between the years of 1860-1865. The piano was reportedly played by O. Henry’s wife Athol who gave piano lessons to children in the 1890’s.
Molberg said the piano had not been tuned for at least 50 years! “It’s been a slumbering giant,” he said. Apparently, the piano must have been enjoyed by O. Henry and his family. As Molberg said about its condition, “Someone played the hell out of it.”
When the restoration of the piano is complete and the instrument is returned to the O. Henry Museum, the Brush Square Museums staff and Foundation members hope to host musical events at the museum featuring local musicians performing on the square grand piano.
“We are looking forward to the day when we can all gather around the O. Henry family square grand and enjoy its beautiful music, just like Will and Athol did,” said Julianne Richter, Co-president of the Foundation.